Searching over 5,500,000 cases.


searching
Buy This Entire Record For $7.95

Download the entire decision to receive the complete text, official citation,
docket number, dissents and concurrences, and footnotes for this case.

Learn more about what you receive with purchase of this case.

Mitchell v. City of Northport

United States District Court, N.D. Alabama, Western Division

July 24, 2019

AARON MITCHELL, et al., Plaintiffs,
v.
CITY OF NORTHPORT, et al., Defendants.

          MEMORANDUM OF OPINION

          L. Scott Coogler, United States District Judge

         Plaintiffs Aaron Mitchell (“Mitchell”), David Hemphill (“Hemphill”), Byron Claybrook (“Claybrook”), Michael Carter (“Carter”), Donny Curruth (“Curruth”), Jerry Pruitt (“Pruitt”), Cory Patterson (“Patterson”), and Todd Burroughs (“Burroughs”) (collectively “Plaintiffs”) bring suit against Defendants City of Northport, Northport Fire Organization (“NFO”) and Fire Chief Bart Marshall(“Chief Marshall”).[1] Plaintiffs' claims arise from their alleged mistreatment by Defendants because they are not members of the NFO. The City of Northport and Chief Marshall have moved to dismiss Plaintiffs' Amended Complaint. (See Doc. 24.) Plaintiffs have timely filed their opposition. The motion is fully briefed and ripe for review. For the reasons stated below, Defendants' motion to dismiss (doc. 24) is due to be granted in part and denied in part.

         I. Background[2]

         During the time period in question, Plaintiffs worked at the Northport Fire Department, part of the City of Northport. The NFO is a domestic, non-profit corporation that has members who work at the Northport Fire Department. Plaintiffs' claims arise from their alleged mistreatment by Chief Marshall, who was hired by the City of Northport in 2013. Chief Marshall is Caucasian and is alleged to have been hired despite an acrimonious history. The City of Northport is specifically alleged to have hired Chief Marshall without conducting a background check. Each Plaintiff alleges that they were considered exceptional employees until Chief Marshall was hired. Plaintiffs allege that Chief Marshall and other NFO members have and continue to harass them because they were not members of the NFO.

         In summer 2017, the City of Northport conducted a special investigation into Chief Marshall. The findings of this special investigation were reported to the Mayor, but the City of Northport did not take any of the recommended corrective actions. Plaintiffs allege that since their participation in the special investigation, none of them have received promotions even though less qualified NFO members have been promoted.

         Plaintiffs filed this action in September 2018, in the Circuit Court of Tuscaloosa County, Alabama. The case was then removed to Federal Court in November 2018. Plaintiffs allege that since they have filed suit, NFO members have subjected them to continued harassment and that no one has been disciplined for these actions. As part of this alleged harassment, Plaintiffs claim that an article regarding this suit was posted in the breakroom, bathroom, and locker room at some of the Northport Fire stations. In response to Plaintiffs' complaints regarding this harassment, Chief Marshall is alleged to have told Plaintiffs “[j]ust wait for the next article.” (Doc. 17 ¶¶24, 36, 49, 61, 72, 81, 89, 105.).

         As a result of these actions, Plaintiffs have brought suit against Defendants for negligent hiring and retaliation. In addition to these claims, some of the Plaintiffs have brought additional individual claims against Defendants. For the purpose of clarity, the Court details below the factual basis for each Plaintiff's claim.

         a. Aaron Mitchell

         Mitchell, who is African American, brings an additional claim for race discrimination against Defendants. Mitchell was hired by the Northport Fire Department in 2002. Mitchell alleges that since Chief Marshall was hired, he has been subjected to harassment by Chief Marshall that has included strict scrutiny of his work, and Chief Marshall implementing changes of procedures, policies, and practices at the Northport Fire Department. During this time period, Mitchell claims that he has not been provided with a copy of the harassment policy despite making multiple requests for the document.[3]

         While working for the Northport Fire Department, Mitchell was involved in a verbal altercation with Todd Payne (“Payne”) and four other firemen. Payne is Caucasian and a member of the NFO. Mitchell alleges that this altercation occurred because a lock that was on a locker was cut to retrieve property that Payne was allegedly wrongfully possessing. During this altercation, Payne threatened to bust the windows out of Mitchell's vehicle. According to Mitchell, Chief Marshall did not report the incident to Human Resources due to Payne's membership in the NFO. Chief Marshall then determined that Mitchell was at fault for the altercation. As a result of this determination, Chief Marshall suspended Mitchell and docked his pay for two (2) days. Payne was not reported to human resources or punished for his role in the altercation.

         Mitchell filed a grievance and an EEOC charge concerning this incident, but he asserts that his grievance was ignored. Mitchell alleges that since he filed his grievance concerning his incident with Payne, his work environment has become more hostile as he has been subjected to continued harassment by Chief Marshall and NFO members, which has included the use of threats and offensive language towards him. Mitchell also alleges that during the time in question he was directed to perform paramedic duties even though he is a firefighter. Mitchell alleges that even though he was performing the duties of a paramedic, he did not receive the same compensation. Accordingly, Mitchell demanded equal compensation. Mitchell alleges that in retaliation both for his demand of equal pay and his complaint regarding Chief Marshall's handling of his dispute with Payne, he was moved to another station in the middle of his shift.

         b. David Hemphill

         Hemphill, who is African American, also alleges that Defendants discriminated against him due to his race. Hemphill was hired by the Northport Fire Department in 2000. Hemphill, in addition to his duties at the Northport Fire Department, is a member of the Alabama National Guard. Hemphill is the only African American employee entitled to a military leave of absence pursuant to Ala. Code § 31-2-13.

         In October 2015, Chief Marshall is alleged to have cut Hemphill's military leave from 21 to 7 days. Hemphill complained to Chief Marshall about this decision and pointed out to Chief Marshall that he could not choose the days he had to report to duty. Chief Marshall responded to Hemphill's complaint by laughing at him. According to Plaintiffs, only the City Council for the City of Northport could change the Northport Fire Department's military leave policy. As a result of this change, Hemphill has had to use his sick days and vacation days to fulfill his National Guard duties. Hemphill alleges that the change in this policy led the Mayor of Northport to order a special investigation into Chief Marshall.

         c. Byron Claybrook

         Claybrook, who is Caucasian, brings an additional claim against Defendants for harassment. According to Plaintiffs, since the NFO was formed a substantially higher number of its members have been given promotions over local union members regardless of the NFO members' qualifications. As a result, Claybrook filed a grievance alleging that he and other well-qualified candidates were not being promoted because they were not members of the NFO.

         Claybrook had been promoted in the past, but he developed a conflict with Scott Collins (“Collins”), the City's previous administrator. Collins told Claybrook that he would have him terminated and then followed through with this threat. When the Civil Service Board held hearings on Claybrook's termination, it determined that Claybrook was improperly terminated. Claybrook was told he would be reinstated to his most recent position, but this did not occur. Collins is also alleged to have issued a memorandum stating that Claybrook was ineligible for promotion upon his return. Since this incident, Claybrook has sat for the promotional exam multiple times and has scored highly each time, but he has not been promoted.

         d. Michael Carter

         Carter, who is African American, alleges that Defendants in addition to retaliating against him unlawfully discriminated against him due to his race. Carter was hired by the Northport Fire Department in 2000 and currently serves as a Captain. Carter alleges that since 2016 he has been subject to verbal abuse from subordinates who are NFO members. In one incident, Lt. Aultman, a NFO member, used obscene language in front of other firefighters while speaking about Carter's decision. Carter asked Lt. Aultman if he had a problem that he wanted to discuss, but Lt. Aultman said no. Lt. Aultman was then reported to the shift supervisor Battalion Chief Ricky Mills (“Mills”) for his use of language. Mills told Carter that he spoke to Chief Marshall about the incident. Ultimately, Lt. Aultman was not disciplined and his behavior continued. Carter reported this incident to the special investigation.

         Additionally, Plaintiffs allege that Defendants rewrote certain standard operating procedures to target Carter. (Doc. 17 ¶ 58.) Specifically, Plaintiffs allege that Chief Marshall made Carter shave his mustache unnecessarily due to an unfounded safety concern regarding Carter's mustache allegedly interfering with the seal of Carter's SCBA facemask. Chief Marshall is alleged to have made this decision without testing to see if Carter's mustache in fact was interfering with the seal of Carter's SCBA facemask. Carter subsequently filed a grievance alleging that the “administration has a record of punishing the ones who don't agree with them.” (Doc. 18 at 16.)

         e. Donny Curruth

         Plaintiffs allege the following facts regarding Curruth's treatment by Defendants. Curruth[4] was hired by the Northport Fire Department in 2000 and currently serves as a Lieutenant. According to Plaintiffs, Curruth was improperly issued a corrective action when a passport, a velcro card used to help list items and ensure organization when fighting a fire, was lost during the shift before his shift. Although the administration, including Chief Marshall, knew about the lost passport and knew that a new one would be issued first thing the next morning, they issued a corrective action against Curruth, and pressured him to take responsibility for the lost passport. Curruth alleges that after this incident he was subject to additional corrective actions. Accordingly, Curruth filed a grievance with the special investigation. After Curruth filed this grievance, Chief Marshall began to move Curruth between different stations without explanation.

         f. Jerry Pruitt

         Plaintiffs have made the following allegations regarding Defendants' treatment of Pruitt. Pruitt, who is Caucasian, was hired in 2000, and currently works as a Captain and Paramedic as well as a local Union representative at the Northport Fire Department. Pruitt alleges that he has been subjected to harassment at the Northport Fire Department because he is not a member of the NFO.

         Pruitt alleges that although he has sat for numerous promotion exams since 2014, he has not been promoted. Specifically, Pruitt alleges that in February 2015, Chief Marshall told him, contrary to the Northport Fire Department policies, that he could not use his 2014 test scores to stand for promotion. Pruitt alleges that as a result of ...


Buy This Entire Record For $7.95

Download the entire decision to receive the complete text, official citation,
docket number, dissents and concurrences, and footnotes for this case.

Learn more about what you receive with purchase of this case.